Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] — Trade, Exports, Innovation and Productivity

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford 3:30 pm, 13th January 2016

The hon. Lady is of course factually correct, but unfortunately that is like having a beautiful sunny day where someone consistently wants to put a cloud on the chart. This is a major and very significant change in the British economy. We should all be looking to the businesses that now have to pay the increase in wages to ensure that they are able to do so without it leading to unemployment. If we could co-ordinate our efforts around that, then, as she rightly says, we can think about the other level that we should move to. Let us join together, support what the Government have done, make sure that our businesses can deal with it, and then look to the next stage. I think there is common agreement across this House that the disparities have gone too far and now we are doing something about it.

The squeeze in the public sector is identifying new ways to improve productivity. We do not talk enough about that positive impact on the economy. Personally, I would be happy if the Secretary of State had accepted a larger reduction in the Department’s budget in doing his bit to get the deficit down, but I do understand that perhaps he is holding something back for later. Another positive on productivity is that the Government are focusing on the sharing economy, which our Committee is also considering.

On innovation, I am very pleased that the Minister said she would talk to the Treasury about looking at new ways in which tax policy can support equity investment in private companies, particularly involving individual savings accounts, as proposed in the excellent “High Growth Small Business” report launched by the hon. Member for Hartlepool.

May I tell the Department that I took to the previous Secretary of State the idea of a Bedford business fund? The idea is that people who care about a community—in this case, my constituency of Bedford—could put money into a fund to support the growth of businesses there. We do not have the advantages of Milton Keynes, Cambridge or Northampton, which have large businesses or science parks; we have to grow our own small businesses to create prosperity in our community. The idea of having a business fund in which people can invest tax-efficiently to grow businesses in their community could not just be followed in Bedford, but replicated across the country. I ask the Business Secretary to look at that again.

Building on the success of the Bedford business fund and having, happily, been re-elected in May, I am taking forward the idea of a Bedford community business school. In conjunction with Bedford College, there will be a series of courses over four weeks. Anyone in the community who is interested in starting a business can learn about public relations and marketing, and about accountancy and getting finance from business. Again, community business schools are a good idea that could be replicated across the country.

I want to make some points about the Department. I have already spoken about the potential for further reductions in its budget. I know that the Minister is a little more fond than I am of spending taxpayers’ money, but she is a true Tory and will look for efficiencies wherever she can. One thing we hear constantly from business is: “The Government do a lot of stuff, but where do I start.” Decluttering and providing some focus for what the Department does would be helpful.

May I make one specific suggestion? I understand that with the Treasury, through Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, people will be able to log on and see their own tax accounts. Why is it not possible with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for a company, with a company tax identification number, to be able to log on to a website and see in one place all possible ideas that are suitable for the business, tailored to the specific interests of the company. Through the tax identification number, the Department will know whether it is a large or a small company and what sector it works in. With today’s technology, the Department should therefore be able to provide, up front and quickly, the Government measures that are available to support them. On deregulation, the issue for many companies is not how much money is saved, but how much time is saved.